This was the perfect chance for the Reds to bounce back and do so strongly at the home of their arch rivals. An improved showing was displayed, but several individual mistakes proved costly as they were knocked out of this season’s FA Cup at Old Trafford.
Once again, Jürgen Klopp was left to rue the lack of options at the back, as a shaky defensive showing – especially from young Rhys Williams – saw Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side take full advantage. With this performance and the continuing news that Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are both likely out for the rest of the campaign, the shouts for centre-back reinforcements further intensified after the game.
Klopp has made his thoughts clear in recent days regarding the transfer stalemate this month and if this run of form doesn’t kick start any window activity from the board, nothing will.
With the German unable to affect this activity, his concentration will firmly be on the players that he currently has at his disposal. This defeat will hurt the former Dortmund manager, especially with the strength of the team he put out. However, Liverpool can now fully concentrate on the Champions League and Premier League for the remainder of the campaign, knowing that both are unlikely unless things change for the better quickly.
It feels like I have mentioned this a lot during the last few games, but the Reds started really brightly once again with the midfield making early inroads, pressurising the United players into mistakes and making positive movements forward. This period of play was beautifully capped with a goal, as Firmino turned swiftly and threaded a perfect pass to Salah, who calmly lofted the ball over the onrushing Henderson to give them the lead.
It was nothing short of what they deserved, unfortunately – in what has become the norm in recent weeks – a lapse in concentration minutes later brought United back into the game. With Rashford left unpressured on the left, he perfectly picked out a free Greenwood on the right-hand side, who subsequently slid the ball into the bottom right corner.
Upon reflection at the interval, it was the only time the Reds had faltered and surely a similar performance in the second would take them through. However, what came out for the first five minutes of the second half definitely was not what Klopp was calling for.
After a poor attempted ball over the top from United, Rhys Williams miss kicked the ball allowing the dynamic Rashford a clean run-on Alisson, before he dispatched in clinical fashion beyond the Brazilian.
Liverpool answered this with a swift goal of their own, as a mistake from the home sides defence saw the tables turn before Salah converted his second of the game from close range. With still a significant amount of time remaining, Klopp’s side held the upper hand and looked like the team who would go onto win. Unfortunately, in football when it rains it pours, as the Reds suffered a sucker punch with ten minutes remaining.
After a soft free kick was given to the Red Devils at the edge of Liverpool’s area, the impressive Fernandes proceeded to thump the set piece into the bottom corner, in what proved to be the winner for the Solskjær’s side.
As much as Klopp will be pleased with the improved performance – especially after recent weeks – his side has still left Old Trafford with an L next to there name. It is a bitter feeling despite all the good on show, but this is something that the German knows he needs to cling onto. Focusing on these positives are vital, especially during this tough time, knowing that things will eventually turn. The focus will now swiftly shift back to the league where Tottenham await at White Hart Lane on Thursday evening, in what is a must win.
Klopp made five changes from the side who lost 1-0 against Burnley three days prior. Joël Matip, Sadio Mané, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi dropped out of the side with Rhys Williams, Curtis Jones, James Milner, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino taking their places.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Mohamed SalahEmbed from Getty Images
As it was much publicised before this game, the Reds were struggling for goals. The front three were painfully out of form; looking ineffective and lethargic in the recent set of fixtures. Salah answered these doubts with a performance that will hopefully give him confidence to kick on and resurrect Liverpool’s season.
In the goalless draw against United a week ago, Shaw was all over the Egyptian, as the Premier League top scorer was a non-factor throughout the 90 minutes. At Old Trafford he looked like his clinical nature was returning with two goals – the first a ruthless chip over Henderson – in a display that was more reminiscent on what we expect.
His build up play also recovered from a poor period, as he held the ball up brilliantly with Pogba and Shaw fouling him on several occasions. Despite the referees failing to protect him from some late tackles as well, he battled on taking the game to the home side down the right whilst Alexander-Arnold held back to help the struggling Williams.
He will be disappointed with his effort in the final moments of the game, that should have taken the Reds into extra time and given him the match ball, but he will be encouraged by his own personal performance despite being knocked out of the cup. A similar display is needed from him on Thursday evening, where a tough test awaits Ben Davies or Sergio Reguilón if the Liverpool forward continues to improve.
Rhys WilliamsEmbed from Getty Images
Poor Williams had a nightmare. It was a tough watch knowing that he has been thrown into this situation due to the ongoing injury crisis and fans need to recognise this. He performed better than expected in the Champions League and against Tottenham last month when he has started, but in this game, he made mistakes which inexperienced players are expected to make when learning their craft.
Obviously, the major turning point in the game was his miskick as he was unable to adjust appropriately to clear the ball, as Rashford took full advantage to give United the lead. Williams will be having nightmares about the England international as the United forward had a nearly perfect game, flooring the 19-year-old on several occasions during the game, toying with him at times.
The ongoing discussion about who should be playing between Phillips and Williams when Matip is out, will continue to split opinion. However, what everyone can agree on is that the Reds need a new centre back.
I strongly believe that Rhys Williams is going to be a great player and is going to have a bright future at the club, but he shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat for this result. He is promising but wasn’t ready for a game of this magnitude, which should signal some transfer activity regarding the position. Whether this happens before the deadline – knowing the owners current stance on the situation – remains to be seen.
AlissonEmbed from Getty Images
With so many players out of form in the Liverpool team, the Brazilian has not been one of them as he has put in a string of high-level displays. However, the former AS Roma keeper made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes which just shows that even he can have off days.
It must be stressed that these mistakes where nothing massive. As the best goalkeeper in the world, his standards are extremely high and when this dips even a little bit, it is noticeable for Liverpool fans to see, but shouldn’t be stressed about.
There were glimpses in the first half, with his ever-reliable distribution untidy from the first whistle, getting away with several short passes to his back four, with Fabinho managing to foul Mason Greenwood on one occasion before he managed to intercept Alisson’s lacklustre pass.
He was also at fault in the second half for Fernandes’ winning free-kick. With the set piece on the edge of the area and Liverpool blocking all avenues to the net on the right, it was clear his shot would be to the keeper’s side. Yet, the Brazilian made the fatal mistake of pre-empting a shot and was subsequently beaten on his left.
Like I said, these are minor details that are generally not seen by Liverpool’s amazing number one. These mistakes will likely be looked upon by Alisson as opportunities to improve and will use the time until Thursday eradicating this from his game. I am very confident that when called upon next time that he will do the right – and likely special – thing to deny Harry Kane and co.
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